This blog was written by Matt Kertman MPP ’21.
When I first started out after college, I had the privilege to spend a few years working under “the lion of PBS” Bill Moyers. During my time there, Bill interviewed hundreds of the most compelling public figures of the day: activists, educators, scientists, poets, philosophers, and politicians. Shortly before I left for the Peace Corps, Bill told me that he had faith in my generation. He said he knew that, when the candle of democracy should fall from the mantel — as it does, from time to time — we would pick it up and place it back where it belongs.
I’ve been thinking about his message quite a bit since arriving at SPIA. My cohort of MPP students is small, but I like to think we honor his faith. Among us: an environmental scientist, career foreign service officers, a supply chain expert from the Nobel-winning World Food Program, members of the US armed forces, an elected official, and many other civil servants. We are a smaller cohort this year because of Covid; but in many ways it is a gift, for it has strengthened our bond.
If there is one characteristic that defines students here, it is this: The School of Public and International Affairs attracts and builds a community of professionals committed to public service. In fact, this tight-knit community transcends class years. It was an MPP student in the class of 2020 who, when I was applying last year, suggested I come visit. Rich Andre MPP ’20 hosted me, suggested classes to sit in on, gave me a tour of campus, and introduced me to fellow students. In many respects, he is why I’m here now.
Indeed, I have felt this community grow over the past two months as I’ve gotten to know other students at SPIA, particularly members of the MPA program. Outside class, I’ve watched as they’ve supported each other during times of hardship, advocated for more inclusive and equitable policies at Princeton, organized off-campus to support causes — and done it all while navigating a full load of courses. I am in awe of their passion, talent, and leadership.
This community truly spans generations at SPIA. It was past students who advocated for many of the antiracist changes that SPIA has since adopted, and future students who will carry that work forward. While I join past and present students in believing that more needs to be done to ensure SPIA and Princeton live up to their antiracist ideals, I find hope for that future in the community of students I am proud to call home.
SPIA students are powerful proof of Bill’s faith. We are zealous defenders of a vibrant, equitable, and robust representative democracy. Even now, during Covid, whether studying in MPA, MPP, or PhD programs, SPIA students are forging this generational community. It reminds me of a thought by the old labor organizer and poet U. Utah Phillips. “The long memory is the most radical idea in this country,” he wrote. “It... clarifies our vision, not of where we're going, but where we want to go."
Picture courtesy of Matt, pictured with other members of the MPP ’21 class.